I am really excited for this game. Let's get right to the preview.
General Ohio State Thoughts
It is interesting how the perception of the Buckeyes has changed in four weeks. Since the season has kicked off the Buckeyes have appeared mortal and the Gophers have at the very least become respectable. While this game is still a mis-match on paper it isn't by the margin it would have been a few weeks ago.
To get a little more on the Buckeyes I asked Sean from Around the Oval to answer a few questions for me.
1. Ohio State has dominated Minnesota worse than any other Big Ten team over the years (.149 win %). And Ohio State's game next week at Wisconsin may decide the conference champion. What are the chances that the kids with stickers on their helmets will be looking past Minnesota this week?
I'd hope pretty low. This highly-regarded senior class came back with a national championship in mind. Now that they have a mark in the loss column, winning out is the only way they'll have even a chance at the national championship. That said, they appear to have looked past every opponent except Youngstown State this season, so who knows? Even if they aren't looking past the Gophers, Tressel has a tendency to do just enough to beat teams, so if the Gophers can find success against the more basic things the Buckeyes do, this could be close going into the fourth quarter.
It depends. I would argue that title hopes have been pinned on Beanie Wells, not Terrelle Pryor. If Beanie's healthy, all Pryor will be asked to do is throw some short passes and run some designed runs. I'm not concerned about him handling that. If Beanie's injury lingers, however, then everything is on Pryor's shoulders, and I will be worried. Pryor at times makes everything he does look so easy, and that inspires some confidence. However, he will undoubtedly make some mistakes along the way, and if the rest of the team isn't playing at their best, that could cost the team along the way.
Adam Weber, certainly. The Buckeyes have had some trouble against mobile quarterbacks (I still have nightmares about Juice Williams), and Weber certainly is that. The Buckeyes have, for the most part, done a solid job of forcing quarterbacks into mistakes, but if Weber buys time and picks up yards with his feet, he can hurt this defense. Obviously the Buckeyes will be a step up in difficulty from the Gophers' competition thus far, but QBs worse than Weber have had some success against the Buckeyes.
The most dramatic way would be for Glen Mason (honorary captain for the Buckeyes this Saturday) to attack the OSU captains with a steel chair at midfield, removing his shirt to reveal a Minnesota polo as the Golden Gophers' fight song plays. The announcer would then scream, "It's a trick! He's still a Gopher! This is the most stunning thing to ever happen in the history of the universe!" It's unlikely, but a childhood spent watching professional wrestling leads me to believe that it's possible.
Beyond that, I think Minnesota will need Beanie Wells to be either injured or severely hampered by his foot injury. That'll put more of the load on Pryor, and if the Gophers can contain him and force him to make some tough decisions, he'll make some mistakes. Offensively, teams have had the most success running against the Buckeyes when they've gone right up the middle. The tackles are the weakness of the defense, and success there would help Minnesota a lot. If Weber can be patient and take the short throws the defense will allow him, they can move the ball downfield. Once he starts forcing things or making bad throws, then he's playing into the Buckeyes' hands.
Good stuff, thanks Sean.
When Ohio State has the ball...
For the first time all year, expect to see our opponent run the ball then run some more. The former Heisman favorite, Beanie Wells is expected to be back and a few games into Terrelle Pryor's career his legs are his greatest attribute. So expect OSU to move the ball on the ground and use short passes to minimize the chances of Pryor making mistakes in the downfield passing game.
Defending the run, and a running game like this will be a great challenge for the Gopher defense. To date they have risen to the defensive challenges they were expected to have this year. But as has been pointed out all week, OSU is a little different caliber than anybody we've faced in 2008.
This isn't an in depth and highly analytical preview, but stopping the OSU rush is the ultimate test and will be paramount to winning.
When Minnesota has the ball...
This is the first time I have really felt that getting Decker the ball was a huge key. First of all he has to be able to get open against arguably the conference's best corner in Jenkins. He has to create some space and be an open target for Weber.
I haven't watched the Buckeye defense enough to know what their weaknesses are, but I would anticipate we will need to have the medium distance passing game and misdirection run game going. This defense is very good but we will not be able to impose our will with a power running game. It will have to be misdirections and trying to get to the edges if we want to have success on the ground.
If we are to have success on offense it will likely come from the passing game. Finding Decker, finding the tight ends and getting the ball to Eskridge in the flat will be vitally important to moving the ball.
What to Expect...
I expect that Ohio State will own the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. I expect that Beannie Wells will be given the ball early and often. But I also expect that Terrelle Pryor will make mistakes. I don't know that he'll be signifcantly off target or that he'll throw the ball directly to a Gopher. But I do expect that he won't see wide open targets that are his second or third options. And I expect that on a few occasions he'll throw into coverage. We have to take advantage of these opportunities and that will define the game.
If Minnesota is giong to win they will first have to stop Wells and then capitalize on Pryor's mistakes. I'm not sure we'll be up to the task accomplishing both of these keys. A win would not totally surprise me. Ohio State has been lackluster in three quarters of their games and I think Minnesota can come out ready to take advantage. Plus the Buckeyes have a much bigger game next week at Wisconsin so maybe they'll be looking ahead just a bit.
I think we can stay in the ball game but in the end it will be the first loss of the 208 season.
Minnesota - 24
Ohio State - 31